Published: 12:19, 15 October 2021
| Updated: 15:29, 15 October 2021
A water authority worker, whose violent push left a stranger permanently in a coma, wept as a jury acquitted him of deliberately causing the injury.
Lewis Hayes, of Eden Avenue, Walderslade, admitted kicking firefighter Paul Reeve in the head as he was on the ground - but said he didn't mean to cause the "catastrophic and grave" head wound.
Mr Reeve has remained in a coma and has not been able to speak since the attack.
The incident at the Eagle Tavern in Rochester was caught on CCTV and shown to Maidstone Crown Court.
Father-of-two Hayes, 24, wiped away tears after the jury took 14 hours and 44 minutes before acquitting him of the more serious causing serious injury with intent.
He was granted bail until November 4 when he will be sentenced and warned by Judge Julian Smith to expect a jail sentence.
The judge added: "I will reflect on your sentence but I have explained in your presence- so there will be no misunderstanding - that I have in mind a custodial sentence."
Mr Reeve has not been able to speak since the incident two years ago and many of his friends from the fire brigade attended each day of the trial. So many that some had to watch proceedings via CCTV from Maidstone's Nightingale Court.
Mr Reeve suffered a traumatic brain injury which has left him in a Prolonged Disorder of Consciousness with little prospect of him ever recovering.
The prosecution told how Hayes - who had been drinking in four pubs that night in September 2019- and had become upset at the attention shown by Mr Reeve and a friend towards women in Hayes' group.
He said: "The atmosphere was good that night. I heard from others that two men had been dancing with the women. The girls had said they felt uncomfortable about their presence.
"I recall talking to the men. They were friendly. They seemed to be intoxicated.It was amicable. I didn't want there to be any issues."
Hayes told the victim "in an amicable way" to "just **** off and enjoy the rest of the night".
"Very quickly his face seemed to change and he began to squeeze my hand and said to me: 'Don't tell me to **** off'.
"He wouldn't let go of his grip and he became more aggressive and I thought he was going to attack me. From my memory I pulled him to the ground. I remember using force.
"I just wanted to create a separation and get out of that situation. From my memory, his friend got me in a headlock and I managed to jump through that, " he added.
His barrister Tom Stern said the CCTV showed him pushing and not pulling Mr Reeve.
"I have in mind a custodial sentence..."
"After seeing that I fully accept I pushed him and then kicked out with my left foot and it connected with his head. I don't remember kicking. Everything happened so quick.
"I just wanted to get away from the situation."
Mr Stern asked: "Did you want to hurt him in any way?"
He replied: "Not at all."
Hayes said that when he was told at the police station of Mr Reeve's injuries he was "devastated".